Jaden Smith was just 8 when he made his film debut in 2006’s “The Pursuit of Happyness,” playing the son of real-life father Will Smith. The tyro’s affecting turn earned him breakthrough performance kudos at the MTV Movie Awards, as well as a role opposite Keanu Reeves in the 2008 remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
This summer, Smith — who made his TV debut at 5 on the Smith family-produced series “All of Us” — landed the lead in the rebooted “The Karate Kid,” again produced by his parents. But if nepotism figured into the mix, Smith’s impressive combination of acting chops, karate chops and cool charisma was a much bigger factor in making the film a critical and commercial hit (it’s grossed $356 million worldwide to date).
“Yes, he comes from this terrific pedigree and grew up in a showbiz family, but he’s very grounded, respectful and an incredibly focused hard worker,” notes “Karate Kid” director Harald Zwart. “He had to train for months, learn all the moves, learn Chinese and his lines, and his stamina never flagged.” Zwart admits there was initial skepticism about Smith’s age but says the actor quickly proved himself. “There’s a maturity with Jaden that made the movie very strong.”
Zwart adds that Smith’s producing parents, who were in China for the shoot, are well aware of the pitfalls of child stardom. “First, it’s not one of those situations where the kid’s the only breadwinner. And Will and Jada have done a great job parenting their kids.” Jaden’s younger sister Willow also broke out this month with the song “Whip My Hair.”